Battle of the Budget Deal is Over, but this Community Knows How to Win a War!
Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director
As I was reflecting on the military community’s reaction to the news that the Department of Defense (DoD) had requested a plan to close most stateside commissaries, I started writing a blog titled: “Are We Becoming Resigned to Doing More with Less?” In most of the media reports I’d seen, the reporters would ask whatever service member, retiree, or family member they were interviewing whether they’d be able to do without the commissaries. And, in almost every case, like good soldiers, those military people said something like, “It will be hard, but I guess we’ll have to figure out how.” Just once, I wrote, I’d like to hear someone answer back, “Why should I?”
Before I could finish that blog, just when I thought our community was just going to accept without protest whatever was thrown at them—multiple deployments, limits to spouses’ careers, sequestration, government shutdowns—something happened that made military families stand up and say “Don’t you dare!!” That something was the budget deal announced last week, which provided for $6 billion in “sequestration relief” for DoD out of the wallets of our youngest military retirees. As word about the deal spread into the military community, the sound you heard was “Enough!”
What followed was a #KeepYourPromise campaign on Twitter, storm the Hill visits by military associations, and letters and calls to Congressional offices all aimed at persuading Congress to reject the proposed cap on Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) for military retirees under age 62. Things moved too quickly in the House of Representatives to gain much of an audience for the arguments against this cap. But, several Senators did pledge to fight for the currently-serving members and the retirees who will be affected by this reduction in their retired pay. Despite all the best efforts, the budget bill passed the Senate on December 18, still containing the COLA cap for military retirees.
What should military families do now?
- Say Thank You: While too few Members of Congress showed they understood the damage the budget deal would do to the military community, several did and stepped up to fight the COLA cap. They will be our allies in our continued fight, so please send them a thank you letter or email. Members will be more likely to listen to you the next time if they know you were grateful for their efforts, however unsuccessful.
- Stay Engaged: When you write that thank you letter to your Senator who stood up for military families, ask that they continue to fight to remove the military retiree COLA cap. They will have opportunities to do so. Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and several other Senators who voted in favor of the budget deal are on record saying they want the Committee to look for ways to eliminate the cap—count those statements as proof that the grassroots efforts were noticed.
- Hold Them Accountable: Our Association and other military and veteran organizations will need our members and all military families to help us remind Members of Congress who said they hoped they could find a way to eliminate the cap to do so. Be prepared to ask your Member, especially if he or she is on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, to encourage the Committee to take up this issue as soon as possible. If your Member voted for the budget deal, give them a chance to make things right. We’ll need their help to end the cap. Keep that #KeepYourPromise hashtag ready to use any time the topic comes up.
- Expand Your Outreach: In addition to keeping this issue foremost in the minds of your Members of Congress, tell your story to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission’s website provides a place for military families to provide comments. The Commission’s recommendations will be taken seriously by Congress, especially given the budget debate, so your input will be important. Take advantage of the opportunities military leaders provide either in person or via social media to ask them to help in the fight to protect military retired pay.
- Keep Telling Your Story: Military service members and their families have a right to contact their Member of Congress and to tell their story of service. Start each letter with “I’m a proud military family member and I VOTE in your state/district.” Enlist your family and civilian friends in this fight to help Congress understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and the need for our Nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made.
- Don’t Give Up! The Senate vote this week was only the opening skirmish of a fight we can win if we continue to work together and make our voices heard. The military spouses who founded our Association walked the halls of Congress for several years before it passed the DoD Survivor Benefit Plan. The elderly retirees who were once denied military health care once they became eligible for Medicare spent almost a decade mobilizing their peers, their associations, and their Members of Congress before getting TRICARE for Life. It took our Association almost eight years to see Congress pass and DoD implement the WIC Overseas program for military families. Our past successes prove that we can do so again IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!
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Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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